Might my child’s self-harm escalate to suicide?

Uncategorized Feb 08, 2022

It is distressing enough to think about your child self-harming, but what about the extra worry that it could get worse and your child could be considering suicide? 

Many parents are deeply concerned about this, especially when they hear the facts that young people with a history of self-harm are: 

  • 6 times more likely to make a suicide plan
  • 9 times more likely to make a suicide attempt

The truth is, only a small proportion of young people who self-harm become suicidal. The majority of them say that they have never considered suicide (60%).

What’s the BIG difference between self-harm and suicide?

Although self-harm can seem like it is directly linked to suicide, they are very different. Self-harm is a way to cope with life, compared to suicide which is a way to end it. The thinking involved is often very different because self-harm can be a way to help manage life and keep going, which is the opposite intention to suicide. Also, for some children and teens, the pain from self-injury reassures them that they are still alive, particularly when they feel numb to the world. What is important to remember is that self-harm is not an expression of suicidal feelings.

But there are things that can increase the likelihood of both self-harm and suicide

  • Having a history of trauma, abuse, or chronic stress
  • Having a history of alcohol or substance abuse
  • Not having good enough ways to deal with emotional stress
  • Feel isolated (even if they do have good friends and relationships)
  • Having depression or anxiety
  • Feeling worthless and having low-self-esteem

So, because of these and other things, self-harming itself, can sometimes lead to suicide. 

Every Parent should know the warning signs that their child is considering suicide

There is a good chance that if your child or teen is self-injuring, then they have been persistently feeling very low and expressing feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. But some warning signs that things may be escalating to a suicide plan might include:

Increasing alcohol and drug misuse 

Escalation in self-destructive or risky behaviour

Increasing social isolation (avoids friends)

Self-loathing or self-hatred

Recent bereavement or relationship break-up

Getting affairs in order, writing letters, giving away possessions

Stops taking care of hygiene and starting to eat badly

Sudden sense of calm or appearing very up-beat following a period of depression 

Sends despairing texts or posts online

Talking about death or suicide or pre-occupation with death

Searching about suicide on the internet

Previous attempts at suicide


Some children and teens may react to a stressful event (such as falling out with a friend) by saying they want to die. Do not be afraid to talk to them about this but remember that feelings often pass. 


IMPORTANT NOTE: Always make sure to stay alert to these warning signs. If you spot your child showing any of these signs, then immediately reach out for professional support and help. I’ve included some contacts and organisations at the end of this article.

Is suicide something you should discuss with your self-harming child or teen?

If your worried that you might not spot the signs that your child’s mental state is worsening and they’re considering suicide, then you might want to consider talking to them about it.

Talking about suicide is a scary topic. You may be thinking that talking about suicide with your child could put ideas into their head, but research has found that this isn’t the case and it actually shows them that you care about their well-being. And if your child is given the chance to open up about it, the more likely they are to get the support they need.

But how would you begin to approach such a difficult conversation? The key thing here is not just what you say, but the way you say it. Try to have a gentle, subtle and warm tone and think about the approach that would best suit your child. Let them speak, don’t interrupt them and don’t be afraid of holding the silence. Make sure not to be dismissive about their thoughts or feelings if they do ope up and always be open to talk when they are ready (which is often in the middle of the night when you’d rather be tucked up in bed). It is important to give reassurance and stay strong when talking to your self-harming child. 


However, you should accept that your child may not want to discuss this topic and if so you most definitely shouldn't push them to do so. Some children feel more comfortable talking to someone else, so you can always find someone that they feel safe sharing their thoughts and feelings with. 

REMEMBER: If they do say they have a plan or are considering suicide, you mustn’t hesitate to seek help immediately (see contacts at the end of the article)

And if your child is withdrawn and really hard to speak with, then I recommend enrolling on our free online course where we’ll coach you both to stay emotionally stable when dealing with really triggering situations and how to develop the relationship with your child so they gradually open up and confide in you (I’ll include the link at the end of this post).

So please know that only a small percentage of self-harming children try suicide, but keep vigilant and be aware of the signs as a precaution. Suicide is preventable and with support in place, young people who feel this way can often overcome this and live healthy and fulfilling lives.

CHECK OUT our FREE resources for parents of self-harming young people here:

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE BOOKLET and learn how our founder, Claire Sutton, led her self-harming teenage child back to health & happiness: www.YouthMentalHealthFoundation.org/e-book

SIGN-UP FOR OUR FREE ONLINE COURSE where coach you to play a key role supporting your child’s healing & recovery; their journey back to health and happiness: www.youthmentalhealthfoundation.org/onlinecourse 

Emergency Support Contacts






Life-threatening situations

Call 999 (non-life threatening situations call 111)

Call 911

Call 000

Suicide prevention phone numbers 

0800 689 5652

1-800-273-8255 (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)

1300-651-251 (suicide helpline)

Suicide prevention phone numbers 

116 123 or find the nearest samaritans branch

1-800-784-2433 (National Hopeline Network)

13 11 14 (lifeline crisis support line)


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